The Pioneer

Tyler Clementi’s Death Sparks Hate Crime Debate

Opinion by Richard Duboc

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On September 22, Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi made the tragic decision to commit suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge. This untimely death could be seen as just one of the many cases of suicide which afflicts college students in this country at an alarmingly high rate. Last year there were six suicides on the Cornell University campus alone.

However, Middlesex County prosecutors are looking into whether Clementi’s roommate and an acquaintance played a part in his death. On September 19, roommate Dharum Ravi allegedly secretly set up a webcam to record Clementi engaging in sexual relations with a man as he watched from the room of fellow dorm resident Molly Wei. On a now deactivated Twitter account, Ravi apparently described the event and wrote that he had seen Clementi, “making out with a dude,” and uploaded video of the encounter.

According to investigators, Ravi planned to stream video of the next meeting between Clementi and the undisclosed man on the internet so that his friends could watch. At this point Clementi apparently became aware of the hidden camera and reported the indiscretion to Rutgers University officials.

On September 22 at 8:42 p.m., Clementi wrote a cryptic message which simply stated, “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry.” In a statement issued through an attorney, Clementi’s family confirmed that the 18 year old had indeed jumped off the George Washington Bridge and died, adding, “Tyler was a fine young man, and a distinguished musician. The family is heartbroken beyond words.”

The State of New Jersey has very stringent hate crime laws, which can apply to non-violent situations that involve, “race, color, religion, gender, handicap, ethnicity and sexual orientation.” As of now it appears that prosecutors are deciding whether to apply New Jersey’s hate crime laws to the charges against Ravi and Wei which could carry a prison sentence of up to 5 years.

In California, Representative Linda Sanchez has continually tried to pass the Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act through Congress which states, “Whoever transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication, with the intent to coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause substantial emotional distress to a person, using electronic means to support severe, repeated, and hostile behavior, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.” The bill is named after Megan Meier, who committed suicide in 2006 at the age of 13 after being “cyberbullied” via MySpace.

The real question is, should Ravi and Wei be held responsible for Clementi’s death, and did their immature actions constitute a hate crime? If Clementi had not committed suicide, Ravi and Wei would have only been subject to Rutgers administrative action as Clementi did not seem interested in placing criminal charges.

Therefore, I would assert that the two students are guilty of horrible negligence and invasion of privacy but not a hate crime induced manslaughter. Ravi apparently added the word “Yay” to his comment about Clementi’s encounter which leads me to believe that he was trying to be cute instead of derogative. The fact is, I don’t know what Ravi and Wei’s intentions were or how they could have justified their immature actions, but I know they must be mortified about what has happened. It is also not clear whether their actions were the direct reason that Clementi took his own life.

Suicide among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youths, especially those who are rejected by their families and bullied by their peers, is a major social problem. A 2006 survey conducted by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health found that LGBT young people were four times more likely to attempt suicide then non-LGBT young people. It is my humble opinion that the actions of Ravi and Wei are not the same as the hundreds of cases of physical and mental abuse of homosexual youths reported each year.

The bottom line is that the world has lost a bright young man, and that the Internet has brought bullying and harassment to a whole new level.

However, I don’t want the world to lose two other young people to long-term prison sentences.

California State University East Bay
Tyler Clementi’s Death Sparks Hate Crime Debate